Cosmopolis (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Cosmopolis (2012)

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I was reading a review the other day of Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre, a Mexican horror movie that contains a great number of surrealist elements. Now, I'm not a big fan of the movie, but the negative review I was looking at was aggressively pissy because the film played with symbolism and metaphor. Because the director didn't approach the film with the lowest possible regard for his audience, the reviewer was hostile.

Today, here, in this review, I will not pretend that I have a complete comprehension of David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. But I also won't write it off because it's obtuse. That's a cheat to you, and speaks pretty damn ill of me. Instead, let's look at it together, since a critic's job isn't to throw a hissy fit when something challenges their perception, but to explore it, on behalf of their audience and themselves.

Episodic and pensive, Cosmopolis defies easy explanation and denies the viewer a significant narrative thrust. A young stock market guru, Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) has decided he wants to traverse the entirety of New York City to get a simple haircut. He takes a long white limousine that's packed with computer screens and other accoutrements, all the while a death threat hangs over his head and an anarchist riot plagues the city.

Water bottles have never seemed so erotic. (It's there, you can't see it.)

As he makes the journey, he picks up guests with little or no explanation and has long, rambling conversations with them. Each meditates on a point or a theory, with the interplay between money, power, sex and technology surging beneath the surface. As the day progresses, it all begins to wear on Eric. Starting cool and implacable, his fortune dissipates as he foolishly gambles his wealth on the performance of the North Korean Yuan.  His power affords him a great deal of physical pleasure, but he can't possess his wife (Sarah Gadon) and that desire begins to undo him.

The film's overriding desire is to deconstruct. The opening credits, framed as the painting of a Jackson Pollock-esque art piece on a white canvas, is mimicked throughout the film by the destruction to the pristine limousine and the pristine white body of Robert Patterson. Both get soiled throughout.

Pattinson is good and believably understated in his role. He's surrounded with a lot of great supporting work: Juliette Binoche as his ravenous art dealer who gleefully rolls on his limo floor, Paul Giamatti as a bitter ex-employee, and Mathieu Amalric plays perhaps one of the most thematically important characters as a terrorist who likes to get the rich in the kisser with cream pie. There's also Samantha Morton as Packer's theological adviser. Her scene with her borderline-erotic dialogue describing how technology has eliminated time and rendered humanity obsolete borders on dizzying.

Morton had my favorite sequence as the person who has stopped believing in the relevance of the present.

Sarah Gadon seems to have perfected an Adrienne Shelly affectation which drives this film close to the same territory as director Hal Hartley's obscure science fiction flick The Girl from Monday. In fact, a lot of Hartley's offbeat mannerisms seem to inform the first half of the film, as Pattinson has become so disconnected from humanity that normal conversation works against the natural order. This diffidence melts, and we're left with a very messy picture, one that defies order and logic as nature would have it.

The temperature is cold and the heart is stone, but it's not nihilistic in the current trendy way. I didn't like Cosmopolis because it was dense or because I didn't fully understand it, but because I liked the acting, the setting, and the ideas it bandies about. It's not an easy movie to love, and it certainly goes on a bit long by the end, but anyone who feels out of touch to the world or worried about how technology and humanity are colliding will find that it serves as a fascinating and rather damning parable.

I hope that at least gives you a fair warning what you're in for, and a nice summary of what I liked about it. This is a movie that needs a DVD and a devoted man at a computer to completely deconstruct, but, as you get older, you realize that sometimes the pleasures in life lie in the mysteries. I don't have to understand everything that happens in the film, but getting angry because I don't understand it and blaming the movie... well, that would just make me an asshole.

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Posted by Jacob

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Hey there. I’m the guy that wrote that Sante Sangre review. I just wanted to defend myself a little. First of all, I wasn’t “pissy” because he dabbled with metaphor and symbolism. I actually like tons of movies that have symbolic elements. Hell, I have a degree in English/Literature and taught it for 3 years. Symbolism and metaphor are the types of things I can enjoy in a story, and a film doesn’t have to play to the “lowest possible regard” for me to enjoy it. I didn’t care for the film because that’s *all* it was. There was no real story. There was nothing to draw me in outside of the fact I had no idea what absurdity I was going to see next. Even David Lynch, another surrealist-esque director will have something to tie all the symbolism together. This just felt like a mishmash of randomness that focused on a theme and a central character and that was it. There was otherwise no purpose to it, and because of that, I felt like I had wasted 2 hours of my life. I found very, very little entertainment in the film.

    Second, I have an incredibly dry sense of humor, so–especially when it’s a film I didn’t enjoy–I often write very hyperbolically and matter-of-factly at the same time. This tends to set people off when they don’t know my personality or my style and don’t realize that I almost *never* intend actual malice toward a film.

    So I apologize if you were offended by the review, but my negative reviews are typically written as reactionary-comedy and shouldn’t be taken at face value. Think along the lines of the Nostalgia Critic from That Guy With The, if you know who that is.

    • First I wanted to apologize for calling you out on my blog rather than on your own, which is a shitty thing to do. I thought about commenting, forgot that I wrote this, and then it dropped this morning. I can be shitty, and this is one of those instances.

      I do know who the Nostalgia Critic is, and, while not a fan, I can see what you were trying to do with your review a bit more clearly with that information. The problem between the Nostalgia Critic and what you’ve prepared is that, without a voice and face, all I have is your words, which sound dismissive. Punctuating with profanity hasn’t struck me as naturally funny in a couple of years, so that may just be my age kicking in.

      And you don’t have to tell me Santa Sangre sucks, I agree. I just went into your review hoping to learn something from it, either about the movie or yourself. Your explanation here is more what I was looking for than what I got in your review, which I appreciate.

  2. You know, I don’t just dismiss films for being challenging or obtuse, as I love the works of people like Lynch, and even Cronenberg himself. That said, I couldn’t stand Cosmopolis. I found it dull, pretentious, smug-as-hell, with nothing to engage me, or make me care enough to even try to figure it out. To me, this was a big miss for Cronenberg.

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